The Modern Watchtower Prison

Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.
(Investigator 131, 2010 March)

In my over 20 years as an active Jehovah’s Witness, I was often asked why the word "Watchtower" was used as the title of our most important doctrinal journal and is one of the legal names of our religious organization. Although the full title of the magazine now called The Watchtower has changed, the word "Watchtower" has always been a part of the title since 1879 when the first issue commenced.

For years, the inside cover of this "semi-inspired magazine" gave the explanation that a watchtower is an elevated place where a wide awake person with sharp vision sits, enabling him to "see far into the distance and tell those below for whom he is a watchman what is drawing near, whether it is a danger against which to prepare or is something good over which to be glad with strong faith and hope."

While the inside cover of the current issues of The Watchtower no longer contain this explanation, many Witnesses still see the word Watchtower as referring to this function for Witnesses because they believe that the magazine sees into the future to warn its readers of future events so that they can prepare for them. It is true that watchtowers were used for this purpose in ancient times, but today watchtowers are used for a far different purpose.

In modern times, and at times throughout history, watchtowers were primarily tall towers located in each corner of a prison, concentration, or penal camp. Their purpose was to watch inmates to insure that they do not escape. Large prisons may even have watchtowers in the middle of the wall to reduce even more the likelihood of the inmates escaping.

In the same way, critics believe that the Watchtower Society controls its members to the degree that it could be said that they imprison its adherents (thus the title of William Schnell’s book 30 Years a Watchtower Slave). Leaving the Watchtower Society is often termed "escaping," "breaking free," or similar phraseology.  In  view  of  the modern use of the term, the name "Watchtower" may thus  be  more  fitting  for  the  Watchtower Society than first noted.

It is apparent that the Watchtower Magazine serves this latter purpose far more than the former. It is also clear that the "man in the watchtower" who is supposedly able to see "far ahead into the distance and tell those below for whom he is a watchman what is drawing near" has incredibly poor vision. As Raymond Franz has brought out exceedingly well in his book In Search of Christian Freedom (Atlanta, GA: Commentary Press, 1991), the Watchtower Society has a very long and extensive history of failed "foreseeing into the future" behavior. Their date prediction failures (1914, 1925, 1975 are notable examples) are the most well known example of their many false prophecies.

The Watchtower Society is clearly far better at keeping a watchful eye on those they have imprisoned then seeing into the future.

Find out the facts on this website and avoid or escape "imprisonment":

Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses at: